Did you know that the simple act of looking down at our phones can impact our posture? We tend to lean our heads forward by as much as 60 degrees as we scroll through a smartphone or tablet! This act of tilting forward and downward becomes a burden on the cervical spine, creating excess tension in the back of the neck. Our bodies habituate this position so quickly that straightening up can actually cause discomfort! It then becomes difficult to sustain vertical alignment while singing because the body simply isn't used to the proper position. Ideally, phone and computer screens should be placed at eye level. If this isn't possible, be mindful of how far you're jutting forward. Avoid looking down or leaning forward for extended periods of time or make sure to take breaks. This subtle change will relieve the muscles in your neck and encourage ideal alignment!
"Resonant Voice" is a term used by many voice practitioners, teachers, and pathologists. This term refers to "sound that is easy to produce and vibrant in the facial tissues". The concept can be applied across any vocal register - Head, Chest, and Mix. One way to experience Resonant Voice is to hum gently. As you hum, try to get vibrations to occur in the front of your face. You might experience the sound in the lips, teeth, nose, cheekbones, and forehead. The buzzy vibrations should not feel forced in any way. Once you've found it, try to sing your vowels right after humming in this fashion. The sympathetic vibrations sensed in the front of the face will act as a sign of efficient breath energy, vocal fold vibration, and resonance. So get BUZZY! And find your Resonant Voice!
Happy Labor Day to our US Singers from all of us at NYVC! Today is the day that we celebrate all our hard work by taking a day of REST. This reminder of rest is helpful for singers all over the world. We should continue to work hard on our voices and stick with a regular practice plan. However, rest is just as important to the voice as hard work. Make sure that you are taking a day of rest to let your voice recover, to let your muscles repair, and to help solidify what you are working on. Usually, one day per week is the right amount of vocal rest. On your day of rest, reflect on your vocal accomplishments and take time to be grateful for the gift of singing. And, on this blessed Labor Day, celebrate the hard working person that you are!
Is there a difference between breathing for singing and breathing for everyday life? YES! In everyday life, our vocal folds generally stay apart, allowing air to enter and exit the body with ease. During singing, our breath is constantly flowing and our vocal folds are constantly vibrating. Great singing requires a balance of airflow and compression. Airflow from the lungs and muscular compression between the vocal folds interact to help create pitch, volume, vocal registers, and timbre. Lots of airflow and very little compression could result in a wispy or "breathy" vocal quality. On the other hand, lots of compression and very little airflow will likely result in a "pressed" or harsh tone. There are infinite gradations in between these two examples that can be explored! You'll will never run out of possibilities as you breathe, experiment, and master your singing voice everyday!
When it comes to vocal style, CONSONANTS can make an even stronger statement than vowels. Do you start your words strong with a firm punch? Or with an airy and breathy tone? When you finish your words, do you perhaps hum on an M or N for a few seconds like Sarah Vaughan? Or, do you spit your consonants out with conviction like Michael Jackson? Consonants can also affect the vowels you sing. A strong consonant like G or B can make it easier to belt. An N or SH might make it easier to find a lighter place in your voice. Making deliberate choices with your Consonants will enhance your personal vocal style a hundredfold!
Laryngitis. A true vocal killer. Just about everyone has experienced it at some point. But, do you know what it is? Laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx and, thus, the vocal folds. It can cause hoarseness, sore throat, coughing, and pain when you swallow. It can also feel like it takes much more energy than usual to speak, let alone sing. Colds, flus, infections, and allergies can cause this swelling. However, Laryngitis can also be caused vocal abuse or very poor vocal technique. Talking or singing too loudly or harshly for long time periods can sometimes be the source. So, if you notice a DRASTIC change in your voice after an overly aggressive vocal session - give it a rest. If you suspect you have Laryngitis, check with your doctor to see whether it's caused by illness. The good news is that Laryngitis will definitely heal! Just be patient and conscientious if it comes your way!
Keep your vowels HONEST! Vowels are formed and changed by the shape of your throat, mouth, tongue, and nasal cavity. Sometimes it's desirable to modify the shape of a vowel to hit specific higher notes. Usually, though, we want our vowels to stay the SAME. Nevertheless, vowels often change when we don't mean for them to! Try singing a descending scale on an "AH" vowel. When you get to the bottom, are you still singing AH? Or has it changed to UH? Next, try singing an ascending scale on an "UH" vowel. When you reach the top, is it still UH? Or has it changed to AH? These kinds of vowel shifts mean that you're cheating your resonance chambers instead of honoring the resonance of the vowel you're singing. So, listen closely and make sure your vowels stay the same as you move up and down the scale. Keep your vowels HONEST!
Do you desire to RIFF with freedom and ease? Here's a great Riff strategy! Find a song with one of your favorite Riffs. Break it down so that you know all the notes, rhythms, and details. Then, make it into a Vocal Exercise! Practice it at a variety of tempos and in many different keys! Move it up and down across your entire range and even sing it in different registers of your voice! Repeat this same process with other favorite Riffs. By practicing Riffs as Vocal Exercises, you will be expanding your Riff vocabulary so that these Riffs can be executed at any time you desire, in any key you desire, at any speed you desire, and with any registration you desire!
Many times singers OBSESS over which register they're using. Is it "Head Voice"? Is it "Chest"? Is it "Chest Dominant Mix"? WHAT IS IT?! Don't let fancy vocal concepts intimidate you. Vocal Registers boil down to variances in breath flow, vocal cord closure, and resonance. There are actually an INFINITE amount of register possibilities. It's indeed very helpful to use labels like "Chest" and "Mix". But, be careful that you don't obsess about these labels! Many different schools, teachers, and vocalists use different terminology. In fact, you can actually even make up your own labels: This is my "Comfy Cozy Power Register." Or, this is my "Floaty Flexible Resonating Register." If it helps you to understand your voice - use it!
Letting go of TENSION is as easy as INTENTION! The tension that builds up in our bodies throughout the day often translates into vocal tension when we sing. Thankfully, you can work on eliminating vocal tension even when you aren't singing or in a practice session. It's just takes intention! Stuck in traffic or a crowd with tense a neck and shoulders? RELEASE! Do you sit at a desk all day and notice your body slumped forward for hours on end? RELEASE! Are your legs and feet tense from standing and walking around all day? RELEASE! Are you talking or shouting all day long and find your jaw, neck, and tongue are tense? RELEASE! Instead of only addressing vocal tension while singing, start thinking about it throughout the day so that you're already loose for your singing session! You can even start right now as you read this… RELEASE!
When selecting new Repertoire to build your voice, one of the greatest secrets is to find MODERATE challenges. In other words, don't select a song that's too easy or a song that's too difficult. Many singers pick material that is far too challenging thinking "if only I can sing THIS song, then everything else will be easy". This is actually a big mistake. The voice is built fastest and freest when it grows in small, steady increments. Look for songs that are mostly within your range except for a few difficult passages that stretch you. Consider not just range, but also tessitura, length of notes and phrases, agility, musical difficulty, stylistic details, and emotional depth. In finding songs that are challenging, yet still achievable you'll feel happier about your voice and you'll also see it grow faster than ever!
ALCOHOL. You may know that it has some not-so-great effects on the voice, particularly the night before a big performance. But not all drinks are created equal! If you find yourself in a situation where drinking simply can't be avoided, opt for white wine. Wine is generally less harsh on the vocal apparatus than beer or hard liquor. Red wine, though high in antioxidants, contains tannins that can irritate the soft tissue in the vocal tract. If you do choose to indulge, remember to compensate with extra water to counteract your drink's diuretic effects. Keep in mind that all forms of alcohol contribute to dehydration and acid reflux. But, with moderation and care, you should be able to enjoy a drink or two without ever worrying about your voice!
One of the most important vocal skill-sets is Vowel CLARITY. It's sometimes okay to change Vowels in singing. This is called "Vowel Modification". However, our first goal must be to sing our vowels as accurately as possible before modifying them. For example, is your EE vowel as BRIGHT as it should be? Or is it slipping into something like an IH sound? Or, what about the OH vowel? Are you using your lips to form the vowel or is the tongue retracting backwards instead? The concept of Vowel Clarity has been around since the foundations of Vocal Technique and applies to all musical styles. If your vowels can all be sung accurately, then your voice is going to find a great balance of resonance, breath, registration, control, and CLARITY!
Did you originally start singing because you thought one day you'd have the perfect voice? No. You started because you LOVE singing. Did you practice today because you planned to get frustrated? No. You practiced because you CARE deeply about your voice. Did you go to that audition so that you'd hate yourself if you didn't get the part? No. You went because you thought THIS might be your next project. Did you share your gift so that you could become an idol? No. You shared your gift so that you could be a BLESSING to your listeners. Did you become a successful singer so you could obliterate the competition? No. You became successful because you LOVE singing. Just like singing has always loved YOU.
Dress for success in your auditions! But, when selecting your perfect audition outfit, be aware that certain clothes can actually interfere with your singing. Avoid tight-fitting pieces that can restrict the expansion of your abdomen or ribcage and hinder your breathing. Also, don't forget about your shoes. Changes in heel height can alter your body's ideal alignment and your technique. To avoid being surprised on audition day, try rehearsing in the shoes and outfit you plan to wear. Finally, make sure that your outfit makes you feel confident in who you are. Wear something that makes you stand out, but also stays true to the person you are and the message you want to send to the world through your art! Look good... sing GREAT!
Maybe it's time to get out there! Are you eager to start performing as a soloist or in a band, but unsure of how to transition from singing in the shower or karaoke to gigging professionally? One great starting place is to attend Open Mic Nights! They are often held at restaurants, taverns, churches, or performances venues and allow singers and musicians to get onstage and perform together. Some are rather informal, while others are highly organized and require scheduling a time slot to get up and sing. Not only can these settings provide great performance practice with a live audience, but they're also an ideal way to network with other singers and musicians. Maybe it's time to get out there!
Sometimes we're not the STAR. Sometimes we perform in small groups, in choirs, as backup singers, or as a part of an ensemble in a musical. In these moments, it's important to still give our ALL! It's sometimes tempting to give less than our best because we think nobody will notice or that it doesn't matter as much since we're in a group. Yet, the reverse is true! The great Stanislavski once said, "There are no small parts, only small actors". These wise words remind us that no matter what role we play in a performance situation, we ought to put forward our best work. This way of thinking will impact those who see and hear you perform far more than you'd think. Approaching every performance situation with full excellence cultivates a star mentality that will lead to solo and leading role opportunities! Be a star ALL the time! …even when you think nobody is watching…
Did you know that when you sing a note, you're actually singing MANY notes all at once? It's true! The note you sing is called the "Fundamental Frequency". It's the lowest note present in the sound. But, there are many other higher notes present that are called "Overtones". Depending on how we shape our vocal tract (jaw, tongue, soft palate, lips, and larynx), certain Overtones become boosted and others become dampened. Vocal tone and timbre is largely affected by which Overtones are brought forth. Modifying vowels and making thoughtful adjustments to your vocal tract is how to achieve a clearer, louder, or more aesthetically pleasing sound. Imagine the infinite notes you can sing without ever changing pitch!
How often do you COMPLIMENT other singers? It's easy to get wrapped up in competition and trying to make a name for yourself as an artist. But, true Artists appreciate all the beauty around them - even if it's being made by someone else. As Artists, we should be able to genuinely appreciate the work of others without having to compare it to our own. Even when we're comparing ourselves to other voices as a learning tool, we still need to be able to step back and simply ENJOY other singers! Valuing and encouraging fellow vocalists will keep you focused on singing as an art instead of a contest. With this approach, every singer truly wins!
Have you ever wondered why the way you STAND affects your singing? For example, leaning your body weight back into your heels makes vocal production more DIFFICULT. Sitting back in the heels causes muscle contractions in your legs, hips, lower back to help keep your balance and stand upright. This kinetic chain of muscle contractions eventually leads to an increased need for abdominal pressure. Excessive abdominal pressure usually leads to excessive subglottal pressure which can cause a "pushed" or "squeezed" sound. Keep your weight distributed evenly into the floor, making sure to not lock the knees, torque the hips, or press the abs. These subtle adjustments to the way you carry yourself will put you in alignment with greater flexibility and freedom!
Your body is a Wonderland… of RESONANCE! Try to feel your resonance as your sing with different components of your voice. Place your hands on your chest and feel the vibrations when you sing with a strong Chest Voice. Switch registers to Head Voice and place a hand on the back of your head. You'll likely feel some vibrations there as you move to the upper part of your voice. Next, place your fingers on the front of your nose and try an M, N, or NG. You should now feel the vibrations move to the nose and the front of your face. As a singer, it's much more important to understand how your voice FEELS than how it sounds. Let US appreciate the beauty of your sound. You can just focus on your body. After all, it's a Wonderland!
Feel like you're not getting enough AIR? Try invoking the "Rule of 12 Breaths"! While sitting down, breathe 3 times into your ribs with arms over your head. Then clasp your hands behind your back, push them down and breathe 3 times across your chest. Next wrap your hands around yourself in a hug and breathe into your back 3 times. Finally, roll down and place your elbows on your knees. Again, breathe 3 times and feel the expansion in your lower back, belly, and pelvis. After 12 breaths, you should feel a great expansion of breath all over your body! Any time your breathing is feeling shallow, just remember the "Rule of 12 Breaths". You'll be breathing much more efficiently without even having to get up!
What is your vocal SIGNATURE? Just like signing your name, your vocal signature is unique to you. It's not just your God-given resonance and physiology. It's also the amalgamation of all your technical choices and stylistic nuances. We recognize singers by the tone of their voices, yes, but even MORE by their unique vocal signature. Sara Bareilles sings long, legato phrases interspersed with breathy qualities. Rihanna belts with sharp, clean sounds alternating with a little grit. Justin Bieber uses high, edgy sounds mixed with falsetto flair. What about your favorite singers? And what about your own vocal artistry? Constantly take note of the tools that make singing personal and exciting to you. Keep honing your own unique vocal SIGNATURE and you may one day find yourself being asked for your signature!
Want to adjust the Larynx without even thinking about it? Try thinking about your BREATH sometimes instead of your Larynx. While it's helpful to adjust the Larynx directly, sometimes adjustments are better made indirectly. When you take a breath deep in the body, the larynx actually drops a little bit automatically. This slightly lowered position allows for greater resonance and looser vocal folds. Not to mention that a low breath sets you up for optimal breath support. While good vocal technique often asks us to isolate different components of our instrument, it's also great for them to work together. Let your low breath and your low larynx work in harmony!